SOUTH AFRICA is negotiating with Britain to limit any embarrassment about the disclosure of illegal defence equipment sales to the former apartheid government, according to the planning director of Armscor, the country’s weapons procurement agency.
Dr Andre Buys’ revelation was made at a conference for British defence contractors and Whitehall officials at King’s College in London on Monday.
He said defence contracts still existed, with both governments and private companies, which were made contrary to the United Nations arms embargo and, in some cases, to domestic legisation.
Although he declined to give details, he added: “This could be an embarrassment to (the countries), and we are discussing at a diplomatic level if they have any objections to these being disclosed.”
Asked if the countries included Britain, he replied: “Yes.”
Later, Buys said South Africa was discussing the “question of transparency” in arms transfers with Britain. He hoped all the main contracts could be made public.
A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that talks had taken place, but he gave a different explanation. “We have offered to advise the South African government on export control procedures for defence equipment,” he said.
In particular Britain wanted new arms deals to be covered by a commercial confidentiality clause. “We did not grant export licences to South Africa for defence equipment during the period of the embargo.”
While Britain has allowed the export to South Africa of dual- use equipment, which had unambiguous military applications, all known cases of arms embargo violations have concerned private firms.
However, Royal Ordnance, when it was still nationalised in the early 1980s, was part of a European cartel which shipped military explosives to South Africa.
Two weeks ago Defence Minister Joe Modise revealed that Israel had been the biggest arms sanctions buster.
Buys’ presentation of South Africa’s defence industry was part of a worldwide campaign by Armscor to increase arms sales.
He disclosed that in 1992/93, a year before the embargo was lifted, South Africa exported arms worth R800-million, of which 42 percent went to the Middle East, 22 percent to Asia, 14 percent to the Far East, seven percent to Latin America, 10 percent to Africa and one percent to North America.